Rebecca Atkinson says she “loves” soybeans as a pasture crop, and silage made from the legume is “very comparable to alfalfa silage.”
This Southern Illinois University beef forage specialist says the crop can be made into hay, too, if it’s harvested differently than alfalfa and the weather cooperates.
Her research has focused on the tall-growing Large Lad and Big Fellow varieties, primarily as pasture crops for cow-calf producers. The varieties grow up to 2’ tall within six weeks after planting and can be grazed then, she says. Three or four grazings are possible in an intensive rotational grazing system if rainfall is sufficient and they’re grazed no shorter than 10”.
Bloat hasn’t been a problem, but Atkinson recommends using a mineral block containing a bloat-prevention compound when cattle graze pure soybeans.
The varieties have yielded up to 9.6 tons/acre of dry matter testing 18-26% protein. The ADF, NDF and other quality parameters are also similar to those of alfalfa, she says.
She made soybean silage once and was pleased with it, and knows farmers who have had good results making soybean hay. She tried making hay in late September, when drying conditions were less than ideal. The soybeans were windrowed by a mower with a roll conditioner.
“Because of the rain and humidity, we never got it dry,” she reports.
Plant the crop in rows as narrow as possible to minimize stem size. Then cut it with a mower with a flail conditioner and follow with a tedder to spread the crop, Atkinson advises.